Student volunteers inside Physiol refectory with recycling signsTrash is a topic on everyone’s mind, especially at The University of Queensland. Since the War on Waste aired in 2017, and through increasing environmental awareness, the Australian community has started to question where its trash comes from and where it goes. As a result, many have started to reduce, reuse and recycle, which has become easier to achieve with the 2019 waste initiatives at UQ.

The beginning of 2019 saw UQ Unwrapped make its debut. Aiming to reduce plastic waste on campus, UQ Unwrapped is bringing together the entire UQ community to act on the issue of single-use plastic consumption, through an action-based membership model and student-staff focused engagement. 

This initiative was driven by Christine McCallum, a Project Officer in the Sustainability Office, and Sophie Rutter, a Bachelor of Environmental Management honours student and UQ staff member.

UQ food retailers are encouraged to reduce their single-use plastic items, replacing them with reusable or compostable alternatives. If they significantly reduce their amount of plastic, they become “Plastic Free Champions”, and are advertised in the UQ Unwrapped Facebook group.

Event organisers are also invited to hold UQ Unwrapped Sustainable Events, achieving certification if the six identified single-use plastic items and balloons are eliminated.

UQ Unwrapped has been operating over the past 12 months and currently has 29 members, 3 plastic-free champions and has hosted 23 certified UQ Unwrapped Sustainable Events. Our members, champions and events have saved of approximately 1,200,000 plastic items going to landfill to date. To read more about UQ Unwrapped, click here.

The next waste initiative started at the newly-renovated Physiol refectory, with the introduction of organics bins. While food scraps don’t seem like trash, they emit methane if they break down in an oxygen-deprived environment like landfill. Considering more than 25% of waste generated at UQ is compostable, the organics bins aim save these scraps from landfill and put them to better use.

At the unveiling of the new Physiol, student waste volunteers stood near the bins to show others where their waste streams could go. They worked tirelessly to make sure the new bin system was a success.

Collecting compostable food service ware and food waste in an organics stream ensures that the valuable organic matter can be recaptured and returned to the food chain through farmland application. Read more about waste collection at UQ here.

Student with Green Caffeen coffee cups and using the appThe final waste initiative of 2019 was the Choose to Reuse campaign, encouraging reuse, instead of single use, on campus. As a part of this initiative’s launch, UQ introduced Green Caffeen. Green Caffeen is Australia’s first reusable, swap-and-go coffee cup program. To help coffee shops transition from using single-use coffee cups, Damien Clarke and Martin Brookes created an app where you can rent out a reusable coffee cup for free. Simply order your coffee through the app and you’ll receive a green reusable cup with your coffee. Then drop it off when you’re done at any participating venue. It helps save trash from landfill, and UQ is the first university to implement it in their campus coffee venues. All coffee outlets on campus are participating in the program with the exception of smaller outlets that do not have washing-up facilities.

During the launch of Green Caffeen, student volunteers were again out in full force, offering free coffee to anyone who downloaded the app. Enthusiastic student engagement in these waste initiatives shows how committed they are to sustainability and creating change on campus. Now, with Green Caffeen active in almost every venue on St Lucia campus, staff and students can enjoy a coffee and help the environment too. Read more about the Choose to Reuse campaign here.

In 2019, there has been big changes to how we deal with waste at UQ. Businesses are taking ownership and transitioning to environmental alternatives, the community can dispose of waste better, and the option to reuse (at least with coffee) has never been easier. With increased engagement and interest in the field of sustainability, it is exciting to see what change will happen in years to come.